Chris Barber Big Band keeps on swinging at Cardogan Hall


At 87 Chris Barber is somewhat stooped and tends to ramble when addressing the audience. But in concert he remains a potent trombonist and leads a stunning 10-piece band. Tonight began with 'Bourbon Street Parade' and closed with 'Saints Go Marching In', which suggests, at a glance, Barber leads a Dixieland outfit. Not at all! Throughout the Big Band interpreted Duke Ellington compositions – an especially fine 'Black And Tan Fantasy' demonstrated exceptional ensemble playing. while 'East St Louis Toodle Oo' was pure joy.

Other composers tackled were Fats Waller's 'Wild Cat Blues' and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee's 'Cornbread, Peas & Black Molasses'. For the latter Barber reminisced on touring with Sonny and Brownie and how they explained their loathing for this diet – it being a staple of Southern jails! As Barber brought Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broonzy and Sonny Boy Williamson to the UK it's unsurprising that his Big Band can play a strong shuffle blues but what did surprise me was when they followed with a beautifully felt interpretation of Miles Davis' 'All Blues' (played by a quintet – the Big Band coming and going as the music demanded).

While everyone in the Big Band played with precision I'd note Bert Brandsma's clarinet and Nick White's saxophone, both delivering gorgeous solos, while the drumming of John Watson ensured every number swung. Barber has contributed far more to British music than he is given credit for and, right now, the lion in winter continues to play jazz of great joy and beauty.

– Garth Cartwright